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Malcolm X: "Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?"

In one of his most famous speeches from 1962, Malcolm X posed the question: "Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?".

Malcolm X
Malcolm X

What makes people hate someone of another race? Kenneth Clark and his wife studied attitudes among African Americans and whites in a segregated America in the 1940s and 50s. They concluded that racist attitudes are taught from parents and society from an early age.

Malcolm X and "Who Taught You To Hate Yourself"?

Malcolm was born Malcolm Little in 1925 in Nebraska. His father was an ardent civil rights activist. When Malcolm was 6, his father was killed. The police ruled the incident as an accident. Due to their mother's mental breakdown, Malcolm and his siblings had to spend their childhood in foster care. In 1946, he was charged with burglary and he served 7 years in prison. While in prison he converted to Islam and he dismissed his original surname because he considered it a slave name. He chose "X" to emphasise his new identity. In the 1960s he was asked to participate in debates concerning civil rights, racial relations and black supremacy. With very controversial views, he soon became a media magnet, with many friends as well as enemies. His enemies got the upper hand, and in 1965 he was shot to death.

In Harlem, New York, in 1962, Malcolm X held one of his most famous speeches "Who Taught You To Hate Yourself?". He had just arrived from a pilgramage to Mecca. This is from the first part of the speech:

"Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you don't want to be around each other?.."

  • Who do you think he blamed?
  • Why do you think he was so upset about the African Americans' general self esteem?
  • Why do you think he chose to focus on this subject in his speech?

Further Work

  1. Malcolm X's speech from May 5, 1962: "Who Taught You To Hate Yourself?" By following this link you'll find glimpses of his speech Malcolm X and the Doll Test and you may listen to the entire speech on YouTube.
    Analyze the speech:
    • what is the context?
    • how is it performed?
    • what is the message?
    • how does he convince the audience?
    • what rhetorical devices are used?
  2. Read about Malcolm X and find biographical information. Make a collage to illustrate his life and career. Choose pictures and illustrations that demonstrate what is/was typical for African Americans and their general life conditons and to document what made Malcolm stand out in the crowd. Be artistic!
  3. When Alexander Murray Palmer Haley's novel Roots - the Saga of an American Family was released in 1976 it became an immediate success, especially among African Americans. A TV series based on the novel the year after confirmed and increased its popularity.You may read an excerpt here.
    • Use the web and find out why African Americans embraced Roots.
    • Why are sagas like this important?
    • Make references to the findings of the Doll Tests and Malcolm X.
  4. Find information about Michael Jackson. Discuss to what extent he might illustrate the points about African Americans' race and self-perception.

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